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Toppling a Democracy 101 – Lessons to Learn from Marcos, Duterte, Hitler, and All the Other Fascists


Editorial Cartoon by Jansen Wong

With all the checks and balances put in place to prevent any one leader from becoming too powerful, subverting a democracy can seem like a daunting task. But it is far from impossible; demagogues from Hitler to Duterte have successfully toppled the democracy they once lived in and replaced it with an authoritarian regime centered around one person. That person can be you, if you follow these simple steps (and smother your conscience with your overinflated ego)!

Step one is to play off of people’s primitive tribalistic urges (those instincts that drive people to get into online fistfights over sports teams and Harry Potter houses) by naming an “enemy of the people.” Then, you can sell yourself as the savior of the nation, the antidote to the poison of {insert political scapegoat here}. Adolf Hitler famously blamed the Jews for the German defeat in World War I, promoting the idea that Germans must overcome treacherous Jewish influence to reach their nation’s full potential. Casting a defenseless minority in the role of villain like this is undoubtedly easier; however, by making your political opposition “the enemy of the people,” you deal a powerful blow to their influence while boosting your own popularity.

Rodrigo Duterte masterfully got the best of both worlds; he initially cast drug pushers and addicts as the enemy to secure popular support. By branding himself as a strict disciplinarian who was willing to bend the rules to get results (a trope that old cop movies starring FPJ or Cesar Montano have proven to resonate well with Filipinos), he duped 16 million people into voting him into office. Then, with his grip on power secure, he went on to making public enemies out of politicians who refused to bend over for him and become his lapdogs, branding them as “dilawan.” This made it easy to wave genuinely good criticism away as the opposition complaining or being obstructive.

You should strive to emulate Duterte in carrying this step out. The mental gymnastics his supporters are willing to go through to justify his actions are undeniable proof of how effectively he has built a tribe with himself as its central totem.

Step two is to ensure that the populace is blind to the truth of what you are doing. To do this, you must invest serious funds for propagating disinformation, and by serious it means by the millions. In 2017, a study by the University of Oxford found out that Duterte spent 10 million pesos for organized social media manipulation – in other words, troll armies. Armchair attack dogs that went on to spreading havoc in major social media sites three years later.

Disinformation is your best friend here. If the media begins talking about a failing economy, drown out their voices with a blatant lie. The media will be forced to engage with your stunt, and in debunking it they will waste valuable time and effort that would otherwise have been spent on pointing out your shortcomings. Best of all, the cost of telling a lie is miniscule compared to the cost of debunking it – it takes two seconds to come up with a bold claim; disproving it will require research and evidence and even then your power base will ignore the calls of “Liar!”

Propagating disinformation is a very effective strategy for distracting the opposition and causing confusion among the common people. You must be relentless in spreading lies about the opposition, of your administration’s achievements, of the state of the Filipino society, even as far as twisting Philippine history and geography. This puts a dent on the opposition’s attempts to expose your administration, as well as distracting the populace from focusing on the graver abuses under your power.

An excellent example of manipulating the perception of the past can be seen in the strategy of the Marcoses. In the words of Nik Ynchausti, Ferdinand Marcos’ goal was not to recreate Philippine history in support of his own image, but his authoritarian rule. Until now, efforts of his family in overstating the “achievements” of the Martial Law (whether true or not) have been successful in amassing admirers and apologists. The elaborate misinformation of the public by spreading false information and historical revisionism has been enough for some people to deny all accusations of abuse and crime during the regime, and are less likely to oppose if Martial Law is ever reinstated, neat!

Step three is to silence your dissenters! Preferably permanently. Utilize the state forces, the police and the military to initiate a crackdown on human rights groups. Take advantage of any situation to arrest critics, including but not limited to a worldwide pandemic. Do not be afraid to create trumped-up charges against activists. This way, the efforts to expose you will be slowed down considerably.

Another way is to create public spectacles about people who threaten you (the sincerity of these claims are irrelevant). Make an example of these people – how dare they exercise their right to free speech? Publicize their arrest and humiliate them on social media. Order your hordes of online trolls to threaten anyone expressing solidarity or sympathy for the scapegoats. Make your message loud and clear – any threats to you and your cronies, satirical or otherwise, will be met with the overwhelming force of whatever law can be bent into a half-passable excuse.

The fun part of this is you can get creative with how you turn your critics into fugitives! Rodrigo himself demonstrated this with how he dealt with one of his most notorious critics, Senator Leila de Lima. She was one of the public figures most insistent in investigating human rights violations under Duterte’s ‘tokhang’ campaign, aiming to expose the ruthless nature of extrajudicial killings under his administration. Because of this he concocted a plan that would ruin her reputation for good: accusing her of drug-trafficking and putting her under arrest. Through this scheme, he was able to frame one of his strongest critics as a criminal.

If you ever plan to frame your critics to silence them, you can pretty much think of any violation under the sun – if you’ve done the other steps right, your dogs and followers should be easily convinced by planted evidence. The possibilities are endless! Of course, this is not limited to big time government officials: even normal people that publicly desecrate you should not be left unpunished. The president also acknowledges this, which is why even ordinary citizens that convey negative sentiments online are persecuted severely. Earlier this month a public high school teacher was arrested and publicly humiliated for threatening to kill the president for 50 million pesos via Twitter – such an act, of course, deserved being taken by members of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) from his house, detained, and televised handcuffed on national television because we know that only the president can threaten to kill people unharmed!

Connected to this is step four, which is one of the oldest tricks in the book: control the media and silence the journalists. A well-informed populace is every dictator’s weakness, since the citizens of such a populace can see who stands to gain from the government’s policies – is it the people, or just the ruling elite? Worst of all, well-informed citizens know when the government is doing their job or not. By undermining the media, the angry masses can be neutralized. With the watchdogs gone, abuses under your administration will go uncriticized.

Duterte is a natural at this: how do you think we were able to maintain being one of the deadliest countries for journalists? His most recent major stunt was the shutdown of major TV network ABS-CBN, a prominent broadcasting station that millions of people rely on for information, especially in rural areas. Robbed of a reliable news source, ordinary people are almost completely blind to things happening around them, creating a window for the administration to continue making selfish and incompetent decisions that do nothing but advance their interests. Out of sight, out of mind.

It is also important to focus on taking down news outlets that are relentless in exposing the reality of your administration’s wrongdoings. Such is the case with Duterte and Rappler, a major online news source that has been critical of his administration for years, exposing issues like cases of human rights violations and the flaws of the ongoing drug war. In addition to measures like imposing coverage bans, the president has publicly antagonized them, calling their reports exaggerated and ‘twisted’. Of course, he has also sought out for the arrest of its founder, Maria Ressa, who has been critical of the Duterte administration several times in the past (recall step 3, silencing dissenters!). This strategy of openly condemning Rappler has also caused his loyal followers to do the same, effectively decreasing their reach.

And that concludes this list of tips on toppling a democracy. Sadly, none of this will be easy: those who love liberty more than they fear you will stand in your way. But always remember to follow these four steps to the letter, be wary, and be heartless. Always bear in mind the great Rodrigo Duterte’s iconic campaign slogan, “tapang at malasakit.” These are the two cancers that you must purge your citizens of in order to turn them into your willing victims. Best of luck, Great Leader.

Update (June 1, 4:35 p.m.): Hitler blamed the Jews for the German defeat in World War I, not World War II. We apologize for this oversight.



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